Florida rightly suspended its certificate of need laws during COVID-19

June 04, 2020 | By MOLLIE RIDDLE

In an emergency order, Florida’s Surgeon General Scott Rivkees has suspended Florida’s Certificate of Need requirement for ambulances. This is an encouraging development for both consumers and healthcare entrepreneurs, and a change that the state legislature should make permanent.

As PLF explained in a letter to Governor Ron DeSantis, on behalf of Brewster Ambulance Service, CON laws make it impossible for healthcare providers to respond quickly to changing demand. CON laws require healthcare providers to demonstrate that their service is “needed” before they’re allowed to operate. In determining whether a new service is “needed,” bureaucrats invite existing companies to weigh in on whether they think competition is necessary. This is why CON laws are more accurately called “Competitor’s Veto” laws. While these laws are suspect even during normal times, the experience of New York has revealed how dangerous it is to artificially limit the supply of medical services when demand can change quickly.

Brewster, a family-owned ambulance business located in Florida’s Collier County, applied for a Certificate of Need to expand its service area into neighboring Lee County last year. After Lee County’s sole ambulance provider protested Brewster’s application, the county denied the company authority to expand. Transportation between medical facilities, like nursing homes, hospitals, and urgent care facilities, is vital in a medical crisis. But because it was denied a Certificate of Need, Brewster was prohibited from providing trips in Lee County even if it received calls for help. PLF is currently challenging a similar law in Kentucky in federal court on behalf of Phillip Truesdell and his ambulance company, Legacy Medical Transport.

Florida is showing a better way forward. Thanks to the surgeon general’s order, Brewster, and other providers will be able to expand their services without asking for permission through the onerous Certificate of Need process first. That’s a win not only for these entrepreneurs, but also for the Sunshine State residents who will benefit from a greater number of service options.

This positive development comes on the heels of other legislative reform meant to expand access to healthcare in Florida. Last summer, Governor DeSantis signed HB 21, which repealed the state’s CON requirement for most heathcare services (including general hospitals, complex medical rehabilitation beds, neonatal intensive care units, and organ transplant centers). After the emergency passes, we hope to see Florida repeal its Certificate of Need program in its entirety. But the suspension of these anticompetitive laws is still something to celebrate. Florida is now a safer place for patients and a better place for entrepreneurs.